When delving into the definition of an addiction, words such as ‘dependence’, ‘compulsion’ and ‘fixation’ are listed as synonyms. And it’s fair to say that no good can come of any addiction. Social media addiction is yet another bad habit we’ve inherited from the advancements in modern technology, like online gaming. These days it would appear that not being on social media is more of a taboo than having multiple accounts on a variety of platforms. But how serious is this addiction? And is it something we need to remedy before the inevitable dissolution of the face-to-face interaction?

When we speak about “addiction”, we drum up images of Al-Anon meetings, empty vodka bottles and the more sinister used syringe needles. A far cry from ‘liking’ someone’s photo on Facebook or repeatedly refreshing your Instagram feed – because god forbid you miss Kim Kardashian’s latest selfie. In my opinion, the term can vary from one person to another, and that’s half of a problem. When it comes to addictive behaviours, we’re very quick to jump to our own defences. It goes without saying that an addiction to social media and our smartphone/computer screens pale in comparison to more harmful behaviours such as alcohol and substance abuse. But just because it may not have (immediate) negative physical effects, it doesn’t mean it won’t harm us in the long run. And ain’t that the truth? Based on a general definition of addiction, there are four fundamentals:

1. It includes both substances and activities.
2. It continues because it was, or is, pleasurable.
3. It results in repeated involvement.
4. It leads to substantial harm.

According to MentalHelp.net, the Internet is listed among activities such as gambling, sex and pornography. The point they are attempting to put across is that it is entirely possible to live a substantial and fulfilling life without the aforementioned activities. That’s not to say one cannot become addicted to healthy and essential activities but that’s not why you’re reading this post. The crux of the issue (and the entire point of my writing this) is the negative influence that excessive social media and Internet usage have on our lives and what we can do to bring ourselves back from the point of no return.

It’s easy to blur the lines between “bad behaviour” and addiction, especially when the behaviour in question might not appear to be harmful at first glance. Once again, I bring up the fact that the idea of addiction is not always regarded in the same way, when you take into account people’s varying values and principles. But the one thing that goes without saying is that once a patterned behaviour appears to govern a person’s life, addiction has already taken hold. In terms of mental health, the strength of an addiction depends on the costs against a person’s lifestyle and general day-to-day functioning. It’s hard to determine what these costs are in terms of social media and screen addiction but, at the same time, minor effects are obvious. Our need to be connected to the Internet at all times is impacting on our engagements in real-life. Being on one’s phone and on social media takes up time. It’s estimated that the average person spends between three to four hours each day on their phone. This is time taken away from many real-life activities, real-life social interactions and, at its worst, real-life responsibilities. The loss of these habits in the long term will have negative results on a person’s wellbeing.

The all too familiar denial of an addiction is compounded by the fact that social media addiction is hard to dissect. Everyone’s doing it so is it so bad? This indifference is part of the problem. We underestimate the harm our online habits have on our lifestyles. We use alcohol and drug addiction as a benchmark against which we compare our habits, lessening the perception of their harm. The main point I hope is taken away after reading this is that an addiction is a repeated action or activity that has a negative impact on our lives and one that is maintained, despite the associated harm. Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of the Calm app, is a firm believer that the way in which we use our smartphones has an impact on the quality of our lives, our health, our happiness and others around us. “We spend less time face-to-face with loved ones and friends. We spend less time in natural environments; spend less time exercising,” says Adam Alter, associate professor of psychology and marketing at NYU.

In my next post I will be talking about social media and screen addiction more in depth, focusing on the real impact this new-age obsession has on our lives, how and why we need to take action.